rabble blogs are the personal pages of some of Canada's most insightful progressive activists and commentators. All opinions belong to the writer; however, writers are expected to adhere to our guidelines. We welcome new bloggers -- contact us for details.

Will write for food

Margaret Atwood once remarked that she could count on one hand the number of Canadian writers who earned an annual six-figure salary; and she was one of them. The writer's life is a hard one, a living rife with uncertainty and typically, penury.

Some write because it's a passion, a calling. It's art and to be a scribe is to be fulfilled, no matter the unpredictable pay and measly cheques.

Others, like Arthur Conan Doyle, an underemployed physician, wrote for money. Serialized fiction, like Doyle's Sherlock Holmes, was also good to Richmal Crompton for her Just William stories, to JK Rowling for the ridiculously popular Harry Potter, to RA Salvatore for his Forgotten Realms and Robert Jordon's Wheel of Time series, to Terry Pratchett's Discworld novels, and so on.

If a writer can create a character or a world that captures the imagination of the public and she can churn out a series based on that character/world, there can be gold in them thar hills.

James Frey, he of the fictional "non-fiction" A Million Little Pieces, has taken exploitation of writers to a new plane.

His project, Full Fathom Five, was inspired by the potential riches he saw in serial fiction like Harry Potter. Full Fathom Five is a sweatshop for young writers where Frey recruits those who desperately desire a book deal, has them churn out some pulp fiction, which could be sold to publishers and film studios for what might be a princely sum, and pays his writer-slaves $250 upfront (with $125 paid upon commencement of the book and $125 once the final version is delivered. Cha-Ching!) with the promise of royalties if the books sells.

Frey owns creative control of and copyright to all books produced. He also wields punitive power over his stable of scribes, of which there are now about 30, if a fed-up author decides to flee Frey's exploitative contract.

Frey's project, particularly his evil, Faustian contract, has been described as "brutal." I can picture Full Fathom Five's workspace: a dank and miserable open factory floor, with grey, bedraggled writers hunched over desks, quills dipping in pots of ink and furious scribbling on sheets of foolscap. Frey, meanwhile, sits at the front of the factory, feet upon mahogany desk, chomping a cigar, waiting for one of his minions to pen the next Twilight.

Thank you for reading this story...

More people are reading rabble.ca than ever and unlike many news organizations, we have never put up a paywall – at rabble we’ve always believed in making our reporting and analysis free to all. But media isn’t free to produce. rabble’s total budget is likely less than what big corporate media spend on photocopying (we kid you not!) and we do not have any major foundation, sponsor or angel investor. Our only supporters are people and organizations -- like you. This is why we need your help.

If everyone who visits rabble and likes it chipped in a couple of dollars per month, our future would be much more secure and we could do much more: like the things our readers tell us they want to see more of: more staff reporters and more work to complete the upgrade of our website.

We’re asking if you could make a donation, right now, to set rabble on solid footing in 2017.

Make a donation.Become a monthly supporter.


We welcome your comments! rabble.ca embraces a pro-human rights, pro-feminist, anti-racist, queer-positive, anti-imperialist and pro-labour stance, and encourages discussions which develop progressive thought. Our full comment policy can be found here. Learn more about Disqus on rabble.ca and your privacy here. Please keep in mind:


  • Tell the truth and avoid rumours.
  • Add context and background.
  • Report typos and logical fallacies.
  • Be respectful.
  • Respect copyright - link to articles.
  • Stay focused. Bring in-depth commentary to our discussion forum, babble.


  • Use oppressive/offensive language.
  • Libel or defame.
  • Bully or troll.
  • Post spam.
  • Engage trolls. Flag suspect activity instead.